She is the woman hanging from the 13th floor
window. Her hands are pressed white against the
concrete moulding of the tenement building. She
hangs from the 13th floor window in east Chicago,
with a swirl of birds over her head. They could
be a halo, or a storm of glass waiting to crush her.
She thinks she will be set free.
The woman hanging from the 13th floor window
on the east side of Chicago is not alone.
She is a woman of children, of the baby, Carlos,
and of Margaret, and of Jimmy who is the oldest.
She is her mother’s daughter and her father’s son.
She is several pieces between the two husbands
she has had. She is all the women of the apartment
building who stand watching her, watching themselves.
When she was young she ate wild rice on scraped down
plates in warm wood rooms. It was in the farther
north and she was the baby then. They rocked her.
She sees Lake Michigan lapping at the shores of
herself. It is a dizzy hole of water and the rich
live in tall glass houses at the edge of it. In some
places Lake Michigan speaks softly, here,
it just sputters and butts itself against the asphalt.
She sees other buildings just like hers. She sees other
women hanging from many-floored windows
counting their lives in the palms of their hands
and in the palms of their children’s hands.
She is the woman hanging from the 13th floor window
on the Indian side of town. Her belly is soft from
her children’s births, her worn levis swing down below
her waist, and then her feet, and then her heart.
She is dangling.
The woman hanging from the 13th floor hears voices.
They come to her in the night when the lights have gone
dim. Sometimes they are little cats mewing and scratching
at the door, sometimes they are her grandmother’s voice,
and sometimes they are gigantic men of light whispering
to her to get up, to get up, to get up.
That’s when she wants to have another child to hold onto
in the night, to be able to fall back into dreams.
And the woman hanging from the 13th floor window
hears other voices. Some of them scream out from below
for her to jump, they would push her over.
Others cry softly from the sidewalks,
pull their children up like flowers and gather
them into their arms. They would help her, like themselves.
But she is the woman hanging from the 13th floor window,
and she knows she is hanging by her own fingers, her
own skin, her own thread of indecision.
She thinks of Carlos, of Margaret, of Jimmy.
She thinks of her father, and of her mother.
She thinks of all the women she has been, of all
the men. She thinks of the color of her skin, and
of Chicago streets, and of waterfalls and pines.
She thinks of moonlight nights, and of cool spring storms.
Her mind chatters like neon and northside bars.
She thinks of the 4 a.m. lonelinesses that have folded
her up like death, discordant, without logical and
beautiful conclusion. Her teeth break off at the edges.
She would speak.
The woman hangs from the 13th floor window crying for
the lost beauty of her own life. She sees the
sun falling west over the grey plane of Chicago.
She thinks she remembers listening to her own life
break loose, as she falls from the 13th floor
window on the east side of Chicago, or as she
climbs back up to claim herself again.
“The Woman Hanging From The Thirteenth Floor Window” from She Had Some Horses by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 2006 by Joy Harjo. Reprinted by permission of Thunder’s Mouth Press.